The role of behaviour in shaping brain plasticity
How do altered patterns of motor behaviour affect brain organisation?
Our world is designed for bimanuals. Yet, individuals with a missing hand develop compensatory strategies with their body, allowing them to be fully functional. We are interested in characterising such compensatory behavioural strategies to their full complexity and determining how such altered behaviour shapes brain reorganisation.
Example papers: Hahamy et al., 2017, Curr Biol.; Hahamy et al., 2015, eLife.
How are artificial limbs represented in the brain?
While tremendous resources are dedicated to the development of cutting edge prosthetic limbs to aid amputees to cope with their disability, a staggering 50% of amputees do not use their prosthesis regularly. We believe that a better implementation of artificial limbs can only emerge from a true understanding of the cognitive and neurophysiological constraints of prosthesis representation and usage. Our work explores whether neural resources, uniquely developed for hand representation, become repurposed to support artificial limbs, and whether neural “embodiment” of prosthetic limbs can be improved.
Example papers: van den Heiligenberg et al., 2018, Brain; van den Heiligenberg et al., 2017, Psych. Science
Can the brain support body augmentation?
In recent years, there has been increased interest in augmentative technologies that enhance the physical and cognitive abilities of the human body. Incredibly, these technologies are no longer science fiction – engineers are designing robotic fingers and even entire arms to augment our own. However, these innovative devices introduce various theoretical and practical challenges. What resources can the brain employ to control a body part that has never been there before? In our lab, we work with supernumerary robotic fingers, designed to allow the user to single-handedly perform typically bimanual tasks. Using the human somatosensory cortex as a model, we investigate the neural correlates of hand augmentation
Example papers: Makin et al., 2017, Nature Bio Eng